May 11, 2016

The Unintentional Novel

By Donna Watkins

Although I always loved to write and filled pages of journals with short snippets of ideas and thoughts, my intentions had never gone down the path toward writing an actual novel.  With little time for pause, my assumption had been that type of challenge would be too monumental and time consuming for a working mother of two who intermittently still attended college to chip away at a degree.

Further, along in my life, journaling had served as a cathartic method to purge frustrations over relationships and failing health, and to voice my opinions (I’m an introvert).  Taking pause, one day, to examine my notes, I realized I had written the highs and lows of my life. The old saying everyone has a story inside them is true. Since the stage of life I was in availed more time for unscheduled events, I decided to have some fun with those penciled jots. I proceeded to add characters like cads, cops, cowboys, and Casanovas. Okay, I already had the cop and the cowboy in my life, and he could be a cad at times.  So, to flesh out the story, I added the Casanova to save the day, a couple of villains and some support characters to flesh out the story.  For a place of origin to begin, I chose a writing plan that I had learned in my junior years in English class. I simply began to answer the questions of - who, what, where, when, and how.    

One afternoon, my daughter came to visit. I was in my office, alone, laughing a belly laugh. She stood in the door inquiring what I was doing. I told her so and so had done this and said that, and it was so funny.  She said, “Mother, those people aren’t real. You just made them up!”  I said, “They are real too me.”  She ended her visit with the comment, “Mom, you need therapy.”   What she didn’t realize was that creativity is good therapy.  Creativity opens the mind to problem solving and positive emotions.   Journaling opens doors for us to see our lives in a different perspective. Through that lens, we can play with different fixes for problems and struggles until we find solutions.   The results of those cobbled together journal entries with some feisty fiction was the birth of an ‘unintentional novel’, a contemporary western romance titled ‘Silver Moon’.   

The process reminded me of my youth when I spent hours playing with paper dolls. As a child, I cut paper doll figures out of Sears and Roebuck Catalogs and hooked shoeboxes together for their homes. I built furniture out of cardboard from cereals boxes and cut out clothes to hook over their shoulders to change their looks.  Within the confines of their cardboard environment, they romanced each other, married, had children, and, went on exotic vacations.  Writing a story follows that same process, except the characters exist in our imaginations, penned to paper, ready to be unleashed onto the worldwide stage, not corralled in a shoebox as their paper doll cousins.

Since penning that first novel in 2011, at the ripe age of 63, I’ve written several cookbooks, gardening books, and fifteen children’s books.  Add to that number nine songs, and 2 play/skits. I had no idea that I had any musical talent whatsoever. However, when we venture down a path of creativity, some unexpected talents may be discovered.  Strangely, in the wee hours of the night, hovering just out of deep sleep’s reach, full song’s lyrics have come to mind that perfectly fit as companions to my children’s books.

I have learned to keep a notepad with me everywhere I go, and especially beside my bed, for many times, if these thoughts and ideas are not written down, in that moment, they are lost. Although my writing career started with an unintentional first novel, it has expanded into a genre that gives me so much joy.  Now, I have a passion for writing children’s books, songs, and even play/skits.  I feel that when children get the opportunity to hear a story, sing the story, and role-play the story, they will embrace the story in their hearts. My children’s books fall into two categories, shelter animals and the pollinators. Each of the books emphasizes the character traits of responsibility and respect for the life we share with all living creatures and our planet. When speaking with children, I use the phrase frequently, ‘We’re in this life together’.  

Finally, I guess my encouraging words to those who wish to write a book is “Preserve your struggles, passions, and opinions on paper for they mirror the real you and serve as a map of your life. And most importantly, know that you’re never too old to chase your dreams”.
Donna Watkins is an Arkansas word scriber who pens words to books, songs, and skits.  Her repertoire of writings span several genres which include children’s books, songs and skits; a variety of cookbooks; gardening books; short stories; and adult fiction.  She is a Member of SCBWI, NEA Writers Group, Writer’s Ink, and, Heartland Writers Guild. Writing has been her lifelong passion and she believes reading and writing open the gates to curiosity and imagination where anything is possible. Donna writes with the anticipation and hope that her words might inform, inspire, and entertain those who pause to read them.  Her desires are that her family treasures cookbooks will inspire families to once again enjoy meals together at home. The core of her writings for children resonate themes of goal setting, growth, responsibility, and respect for both others and the environment. As a retired CDM,CFPP working 20+ years in the field of dietetics, and having also received training as a master gardener, she hopes that her authored work spanning the genres of cookbooks and gardening books for youth (tweens/teens) will tweak their interest in foods and equip them with skills to carry over a lifetime. At present, twenty-five books have been published both in print and kindle versions. Three additional books are in the editing stages of production. Find more about Donna at:

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